Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Likely to Accept 2008 Ballot

Under fire from all sides, including his own party, the ageing leader faces an increasingly narrow set of choices.
By Joseph Tachiona
As pressure mounts for him to go, President Robert Mugabe appears to have accepted that his controversial plan to postpone the next presidential election for two years is unworkable, although he still appears undecided whether to stand again or anoint a successor.

Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, has been pushing for the presidential ballot scheduled for 2008 to be delayed until 2010 so that it can take place at the same time as the parliamentary election due that year.

Official sources within the government and ZANU-PF told IWPR last week that Mugabe had now acknowledged the open rebellion to this plan within the regime.

This recognition that the plan will not work was in line with comments Mugabe made to the Southern Times newspaper in early March, when he indicated that the presidential election would take place next year as planned, and it would be the parliamentary election instead that would be brought forward.

The concession comes amid reports that the veteran president, now 83, will stand for another presidential term if his preferred successor, Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, fails to garner unanimous support within the ruling ZANU-PF by the time the party holds its annual conference in December.

In the same newspaper interview, Mugabe said he would be ready to stand as the ruling party’s candidate if it selected him to do so.

Selling Mnangagwa as his successor both to ZANU-PF and Zimbabweans in general has proved problematic.

The sources said Mugabe was keeping his options open on whether to stand for another presidential term, and would make that decision towards the end of this year, after assessing whether Mnangagwa had made enough progress in rallying solid support within ZANU-PF and nationally.

Mugabe has abandoned his previous hand-picked successor, Joice Mujuru, after saying he had information that she and her husband Solomon were plotting a move against him. In a birthday interview broadcast on national television last month, Mugabe took pot shots at the “Mujuru faction” which he alleged was leading an internal revolt aimed at “getting rid of me”.

The fact that even regime insiders have no appetite either for an early election or for a future President Mnangagwa only adds to Mugabe’s problems.

He is under increasing pressure from African leaders and the wider world community to relax his iron grip on power. Despite the heightened international attention focused on Zimbabwe since the March 11 police action which left prominent opposition leaders bruised and battered, Mugabe has stuck to his defiant position, telling critics abroad they can “go hang” while promising to “bash” those at home some more.

But even as he fends off these external opponents, it may be his own restive party that is the bigger threat. His options look increasingly limited – the ZANU-PF congress in December ducked out of approving his two-year extension plan and left the matter for the smaller Central Committee, which meets at the end of March, to decide.

IWPR interviews with members of the ZANU-PF Politburo – an even tighter decision-making body than the Central Committee – suggest that Mugabe does not face an easy ride.

“Gushungo [Mugabe] has made it abundantly clear that he now wants Ngwena [Mnangagwa] to take over,” said a member of ZANU-PF’s ruling Politburo, who did not want to be named. “But then it depends whether Ngwena would be able to win the critical support by the time of our conference. If he fails, then Gushungo would stand in that election.”

Another Politburo member agreed with this view, saying, “The restructuring which is taking place in the party is to try to consolidate Mnangagwa’s position, but if the plan fails Mugabe will go for another term.”

Mugabe and Vice-President Joseph Msika are said to be in agreement that Mnangagwa should take over because they see him as a strong politician who would be able to guarantee their security once they go.

However, most senior ZANU-PF Politburo members are unhappy with Mnangagwa, saying the former state security minister does not command enough support within the party or among the electorate to win a presidential election.

Despite this, the sources said, Mnangagwa is working feverishly to convince Mugabe that he commands support and can improve his image. They alleged that he was masterminding a plan to sideline provincial-level politicians who oppose him so as to position himself for the nomination for the presidency.

Instead of Mnangagwa, the Politburo sources said they would like to see technocrat Simba Makoni, at the very least as a running mate for Mugabe should he stand for another term.

Meanwhile, Mugabe’s regional neighbours – whose criticism of his rule has traditionally been muted - are becoming more and more vocal.

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete flew into Harare last week for talks which government sources said were aimed at discussing a “safe exit” for the ageing Mugabe. Kikwete was said to have been dispatched by his predecessor as Tanzanian leader, Benjamin Mkapa, who last year was tasked with addressing the Zimbabwean crisis by the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Pressure to abandon the idea of a 2010 election has also come from South Africa. IWPR has learned that South African officials made it clear to Mugabe that an election that year, when South Africa will be hosting the football World Cup, was “completely out of the question”.

Joseph Tachiona is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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